Azerbaijan using Israeli “kamikaze drones” in Nagorno-Karabakh clashes

The mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians but lies within the borders of Azerbaijan. The countries have both claimed the territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union, fought a war over it from 1992-1994, and stood on the precipice of further conflict since.

Azerbaijan is using Israeli “kamikaze drones” in strikes against Armenian forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, the foreign policy adviser to the president of Azerbaijan told me in an interview.

The latest round of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan is threatening to escalate into a war involving regional powers, with Turkey intervening alongside Azerbaijan. But Israel also has a strategic relationship with Azerbaijan involving cooperation on security and energy. 60% of Azerbaijan’s arms procurement comes from Israel, while a large portion of Israel’s oil supply comes from Azerbaijan.

Over the last several days an “air train” of cargo planes affiliated with the Azeri ministry of defense departed for Israel. According to flight radar apps, the cargo planes stopped at Ovda airbase in southern Israel before departing for Azerbaijan.

During today’s interview, another Azeri cargo plane landed at the Israeli airbase. Israeli analysts believe those planes are carrying weapons from Israel to Azerbaijan, though Israeli officials refuse to confirm that.

Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to the president of Azerbaijan, told Azerbaijani news in a Zoom interview from Baku that he was unsure of the precise purposes of the “air train” but stressed that Azerbaijan’s defense cooperation with Israel is no secret.

Hajiyev said the planes could be delivering commercial goods “like fruits and vegetables.”

When pressed on the fact that the Azeri planes landed at a military base, he acknowledged “it could be military items as well,” though he said he believed the shipments were part of “our long-term cooperation with Israel” and not directly related to the fighting with Armenia.

Hajiyev did say that Israeli Harop drones had “proved themselves very effective” in the fighting over the last few days.

On Wednesday, a foreign policy advisor to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev confirmed the country was using Israeli drones in its fight with Armenia.

The Harop drones, nicknamed “kamikaze” as the drone is itself a munition rather than carrying armed explosives, are manufactured by Israel’s state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

“If Armenia is scared of the drones that Azerbaijan is using it should stop its occupation,” he told me. Turkish TB2 drones have also been used in the fighting.

Israel hasn’t said anything publicly about the latest escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh, and an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment for this story.

Hajiyev, meanwhile, said the Israeli technology “helps Azerbaijan to provide security for its citizens” — and the engineers should be congratulated.

Hajiyev said he’d spoken with State Department and Pentagon officials as well as the U.S. ambassador about the escalation, which began on Sunday, and called in the interview for a larger American role. “We expect the U.S. to be more active as a mediator. Something needs to be done — more active engagement in our region. We don’t see that.”

The UN Security Council called yesterday for a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Hajiyev said any ceasefire must include an Armenian withdrawal from positions from which it can attack Azeri civilians.

Armenia, meanwhile, has accused Turkey of shooting down one of its fighter jets. Turkey denies that.

Hajiyev denied any Turkish involvement in the fighting. He claimed Azeri military radars showed two Armenian fighter jets crashing into a mountain, rather than being shot down.

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